Botswana discovers more dead elephants as cause remains a mystery

Dr Wave Kashweeka, Principal Veterinary Officer stands over the carcass of an elephant found near Seronga, in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, July 9, 2020. /REUTERS

Botswana wildlife officials investigating hundreds of elephant deaths found six more of the mammals dead, but are yet to identify the cause of the deaths two months after the first carcasses were spotted.

Officials told reporters near the Okavango Delta on Thursday that they had now verified 281 carcasses.

“We are not dealing with a common thing, it looks like it’s a rare cause,” Reuters quotes Mmadi Reuben, principal veterinary officer at the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. He noted that the death rate in the affected area was below 2%.

“We cannot rule out anything at this stage, it could be a virus, vegetation, overnutrition after last year’s drought … We have asked the community not to interact with the carcasses.”

The health officials were expecting to receive test results this week on samples sent to South Africa and Canada.

Although the deaths reported so far represents a fraction of the estimated 130,000 elephants in Botswana, there are fears more could die if authorities do not establish the cause soon.

An initial inquiry by authorities ruled out poaching and anthrax among possible causes of the deaths.

Reports indicate that the mammals still had their tusks by the time authorities found them.

Poisoning also seems unlikely because no other species have been reported to have died in large numbers.

Botswana boasts of a third of Africa’s remaining elephant population, having seen a steady increase in numbers despite a worrying decline in other countries.

Quartz Africa reports that in 2009, a drought killed around 400 elephants in Amboseli, Kenya, a quarter of the local population.